Sam Lau, James Davies, and Andy Wong are the technical mentors for Team Mensa. Along with team coach Ronald Yu, they helped Team Mensa win the 2021 CyberTaipan Cyber Challenge.
Although Sam, James, and Andy each have a unique story to tell about joining as a mentor, the common goal they all share is helping CyberTaipan participants succeed.
We share some of their insights from our discussion.
What is a Technical Mentor?
In the context of the CyberTaipan challenge, a technical mentor is a professional with experience in IT and/or cybersecurity who volunteers their time to support CyberTaipan teams. The type of support ranges from competition preparation to career advice. They can also:
- Develop, with the coach's guidance, a plan to teach cyber defence skills and cyber ethics to participants
- Provide career advice to team members who are interested in a career in cyber security or computer science
- Give support to and advise on team training events.
Sam expanded on the technical mentor requirements, "Our mentorship approach is to encourage our team members to think critically about everything that they encounter in the CyberTaipan challenge. This means to ask as many questions as you need to understand the "why" behind the "how". I like to say that this is not karaoke; we want you to write your own songs."
What skills does a Technical Mentor need?
You don't need to be a cyber expert but should at the very least have a foundational understanding of computer systems to best support teams. A passion for connecting with high-school-age students is vital, too.
Ronald said every mentor has different skills. In team Mensa, for example, these different skills compliment each other and are useful in completing all the tasks necessary to accomplish their shared goals. Ronald further added, "Everyone contributes so much, and each person has their particular strong points. For example, Andy and James are our technical gurus. And James, along with his technological know-how, brings his teacher's perspective and skillset, which has been very beneficial.”
How does a Technical Mentor differ from a Coach?
A technical mentor helps a coach with the technical aspects of CyberTaipan. This means they support competition teams in any capacity agreed upon by the coach and mentor. Technical mentors can work with one or multiple teams. CyberTaipan coaches are responsible for all aspects of a team's activities and preparation.
Interested in becoming a Mentor? Here’s some sage advice
Mentoring is a privilege. You are in a unique position to use your existing knowledge, skills, and experience and transfer those skills to newer or less experienced participants. This can help students do well in the challenge and guide their career path choices.
"There will be instances where you get stuck. Please don't reinvent the wheel. Ask one of your colleagues more experienced in mentorship to help you, which I promise they will gladly do. I've received a lot of help from James, Andy, and Ronald. Mentorship is not something that you do on your own – it's a together thing," said Sam.
The mentors agreed that no specific time commitment is required to be a technical mentor. James said, "I was able to handle a full-time role as a primary school teacher and commit to a mentor role. So, it's not that arduous. And as a bonus, it is an enriching experience."
Sam said, "If being a mentor is not something that you are familiar with doing, then transitioning into the role can take some time. But that shouldn't stop anyone from trying. For example, it took Andy and me a couple of weeks to get used to everything. We were online every night during this time to transition Andy into the technology and look at him now – he's flying with it!"
Does it take commitment to be a mentor? Of course it does. But so does everything else that matters.